A while back I published a reflection about pastor Mark Sandlin using his sabbatical to better understand the Spiritual But Not Religious perspective. He decided to quit church for his time away. Recently another of his reflections was picked up by Huffington Post: "The 'C' Word: Why I (and Other Christians) Resist the Label." He's on an interesting journey.
My time away from the Church has helped me see more clearly that the Church is increasingly full of Churchians rather than Christians. We've become so tied up in the power structures and dogma of the organization that we've lost focus on the “Christ” in Christian. We put polity before people and trade love for law. We follow the Church not Christ.
Churchians? He's not the first to lay this particular critique on institutionalized religion. I want to focus on our buildings, our spaces. Sandlin mentions both space and polity (or governance related to denominational function and identity - all the stuff Tony Jones says may be going away). But I'm focused on space this week. Sandlin is critical. There's good precedence. Heck, even the Bible is full of such critiques. Here are some (in no particular order)...
Acts 6:14 for we have heard him say that this Jesus of Nazareth will destroy this place and will change the customs that Moses handed on to us.”
Exodus 15:17 You brought them in and planted them on the mountain of your own possession, the place, O Lord, that you made your abode, the sanctuary, O Lord, that your hands have established.
Acts 7:48 Yet the Most High does not dwell in houses made with human hands; as the prophet says,
2 Samuel 7:6 I have not lived in a house since the day I brought up the people of Israel from Egypt to this day, but I have been moving about in a tent and a tabernacle.
Hebrews 9:24 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made by human hands, a mere copy of the true one, but he entered into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God on our behalf.
Acts 7:49-50 ‘Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool. What kind of house will you build for me, says the Lord, or what is the place of my rest? Did not my hand make all these things?’
John 4:23 But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father seeks such as these to worship him.
Romans 12:1 I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.
Matthew 18:20 For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.”
1 Peter 2:5 like living stones, let yourselves be built into a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.
Revelation 21:22 I saw no temple in the city, for its temple is the Lord God the Almighty and the Lamb.
A spiritual community may have no need for a specific space for worship. Worship is a daily practice. Worship spaces coalesce when two or three gather in a space. We've spent a lot of time at First Baptist wrestling with this question.
Is architecture a worthy artform? Does it convey the Holy? Can it? Or do the present-day economics of architecture preclude a healthy faithful expression of awe, wonder, and expectation? Do these symbols (steeples, education wings, etc) actually speak of economic excess? These may be helpful questions for us to ask for they ask us whether or not our relationship with our sacred spaces is indeed ethical as Sandlin challenges us. Have we let our appreciation of beauty and wonder morph into a false sense of entitlement or (more gently) sentimentality? Are our spaces capable of serving the Risen Lord who is and was Jesus the Christ who had no place to lay his head?
We need to take the critiques of scripture seriously. We need to hold our institutions lightly. We need to ask the hard questions.
Let them be expressions of the Gospel...of Christ who loved the poor, who dined with the wealthy and poor alike.
Let's not be Churchians.
Fr. Jonathan's Blog - All Religion Is Local: The Sacraments of Space and Place
Care with the Cure of Souls - Beautiful Choices